Peru 2012

Peru is a scenically spectacular country, encompassing a wide variety of habitats from the arid coastal plains of the Pacific to lush Amazon rainforest and snow-capped Andean peaks.  In addition to natural beauty, Peru is also home to the spectacular ruined Inca city of Machu Picchu, which was only discovered by the outside world in 1911, as well as the beautiful Spanish colonial cities of Cusco and Arequipa.  This itinerary takes us from Lima, on the wild Pacific coast, to the dramatic Colca Canyon where we search for endangered Andean condors which make the soaring cliffs their home.  From here we fly north to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Cusco, former capital of the Inca empire.  Cusco is situated close to the beautiful Sacred Valley of the Urubamba River, and we visit the Inca sites at Pisac and Ollantaytambo as well as enjoying the bustling local market, before continuing to Machu Picchu, the lost Inca city in the heart of the Andes.

Leaving the mountains behind we travel into the Amazon basin, driving through Quechua villages and down the steep slope of the east Andes, through moss-laden cloud forest and into the wildlife paradise of the rainforest.  We spend the next seven days exploring Manu National Park and surrounding areas, looking for some of the 14 species of primate that live here, as well as collared and white-lipped peccary, brown-throated and Hoffman’s two-toed sloth, and even the elusive jaguar which is sometimes seen on the riverbanks.  This area is a wildlife lover’s dream, and a wonderful end to an exciting and varied itinerary.

Day 01;                                  August 24th

We arrive in Lima, capital of Peru, and transfer to our hotel.  This evening we meet for our Welcome Dinner.

Day 02;                                  August 25th  

After breakfast we begin our adventure, visiting the highlights of the beautiful old city of Lima.  From here we transfer to the airport for our flight to the colonial city of Arequipa, from where we wind out past El Misti Volcano to the barren altiplano.  The colours and scenery are spectacular as we pass endangered grazing Vicuñas and ponds with Andean Geese.  Reaching the last pass above the Colca Canyon we see the mounds of stones called apachetas where weary travellers over the centuries have left a rock to symbolize the shedding of their weariness at the pass.  Winding down into the valley we arrive at our comfortable lodge.

Day 03;                                  August 26th

Early this morning we drive to Colca Canyon, reputed to be the deepest canyon in the world, to Cruz del Condor to watch the spectacle of Andean condors leaving their cliff-face nests and using the thermals to take flight.  Seeing these immense and endangered raptors at eye-level is something to behold, and offers stunning photographic opportunities.  The Canyon reaches more than 3,000m in depth, and is an incredible sight in itself.  We spend the morning enjoying the condors and other birds before driving back to the lodge past traditional villages and ancient terraced fields which farmers have used to cultivate potatoes for thousands of years.  After lunch we return to Arequipa for a tour of the colonial highlights.  Arequipa, founded in 1540, is the second city of Peru, and home to some of Peru’s most beautiful sixteenth century buildings.

Day 04;                                  August 27th

This morning we fly to the Inca capital of Cusco, and settle into our beautiful colonial hotel.  Cusco is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and after lunch we take a tour of the city’s 16th century highlights, including the Plaza de Armas, Cathedral, Convent of the Merced, and the Calle Hatun Rumiyuq, whose Inca stone wall contains the incredible Stone of 12 Angles.

Day 05;                                 August 28th

Today we start our explorations of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, heading south out of town to Huacarpay lake.  The lake is surrounded by Inca and pre-Inca ruins, and is also a haven for birds.  Here we will see a variety of high-Andean waterfowl including puna, speckled and cinnamon teal, andean duck and other wetland associated birds, such as wren-like rushbird, many-colored rush-tyrant, yellow-winged blackbird, puna ibis and Andean white-winged negrito.  We should find the endemic bearded mountaineer hummingbird feeding in the tree tobacco (Nicotania sp.) together with giant hummingbird and trainbearers.  After lunch we stop at Pisac where we visit the Inca ruins before continuing on to the town of Ollantyatambo, location of a major Inca temple/ fortress.  Probably built by the great Inca ruler, Pachacuti, in the 1460s it was the site of Hernando Pizzaro’s defeat by Manco Inca in 1536.  Constructed of finely cut polygonal stones and rhyolite blocks, the fortress and nearby town represent the best of Inca architecture and construction.  Large worked blocks, some weighing as much as 100 tons were quarried from a site more than a thousand vertical feet above the valley floor using a technique of pecking with hammer stones, then skidded down and across the Urubamba river several kilometres to the temple site where inclined ramps were built to raise the blocks several hundred feet up hill to the construction area.

Day 06;                                 August 29th

After breakfast we board the narrow gauge train heading down the valley.  An interesting hour of click, clack and sway, with all of the accompanying sounds and smells of rural Peru, takes us to our overnight stop at the bustling town of Aguas Calientes.  Some may opt to stay here relaxing at our comfortable hotel while we continue up to the Inca city of Machu Picchu.   For anyone who stays behind there will be ample time to see Machu Picchu tomorrow.  The birding at the hotel is fabulous, and some species that can be seen include silver-backed tanager, masked fruiteater, black-streaked puffbird and capped conebill.  Mixed flocks contain many species of colourful tanager, and the endemic green-and-white hummingbird is common here.  Machu Picchu, situated on the spine of a jungle-cloaked granite peak towering some 600m above a meander of the roaring river below is one of the world’s most famous ruined cities.  Constructed from precisely sculpted granite blocks the site may well be the finest architectural achievement of the New World.  We return to our hotel with the setting sun, joining those who have stayed behind at the hotel.

Day 07;                                  August 30th

This morning we pay an early visit to Machu Picchu, long before the tourist hoards arrive.  A moderate hike back along a finely constructed Inca trail takes us to Intipunku, the impressive Gate of the Sun overlooking Machu Picchu.  Here we conclude the story of the rise and fall of the ancient civilizations of the Andes with the tragic end of the Inca, and the enigma that this remarkable site remains.  We return to Aguas Calientes, and board the afternoon train back to Cusco.

Day 08;                                  August 31st

Today we start our journey into the Amazon.  Leaving Cusco after breakfast we travel through traditional Quechua communities and through the spectacular eastern ranges of the Andes to the village of Paucartambo, passing snow-peaks and small Andean farmsteads.  We have time to look around this picturesque village before ascending the last mountain pass before the Amazon Basin and beginning the breath-taking descent to our comfortable lodge in the moss-laden cloud forest.

Day 09;                                 September 1st

At dawn we walk to a nearby spot in the cloud forest where the strange and beautiful Andean cocks-of-the-rock display.  This is a wonderful sight as several bright red-orange males dance and sing, attempting to attract the favors of the duller, burgundy-colored females.  After visiting the lek we return to the lodge for a leisurely breakfast, and continue our drive to the Madre de Dios River.  At the river we board a motorized dugout and begin our journey downriver, past the last folds of the Andes to its confluence with the Manu River.  Just before we get to the village of Boca Manu we pass the native community of Diamante.  Their culture is Piro and this is the largest settlement of Amerindians in the area.  We turn up the Manu River leaving the relatively clean waters of the Madre de Dios behind and entering the clay-laden waters of the Manu River. From here it is another hour to our lodge set on the banks of the river.

Day 10;                                 September 2nd

Today we head even deeper into Manu, travelling by boat upriver for another few hours to the area around Cocha Salvador, an oxbow lake.  This area is far from villages and from people, and offers wonderful opportunities to see mammals and birds.  Our lodge is rustic, with comfortable rooms and shared bathrooms, but any discomfort is more than made up for by the wildlife.  Primates, including saddleback and empereror tamarins, South American squirrel, common woolly, red howler and both tufted and white-fronted capuchin monkeys can be seen here, together with collared and white-lipped peccaries, and a host of spectacular birds.

Day 11;                                  September 3rd

Early this morning we venture out by catamaran onto Cocha Salvador to look for giant river otters, the world’s largest freshwater carnivore, which make their home here.  While here we also hope to see black spider and capuchin monkeys, as well as birds including sungrebe, sunbittern and perhaps the rare agami heron.  This afternoon we return downstream, stopping to walk through the rainforest to a viewing tower over another oxbow lake, Cocha Otorongo, before reaching our riverside lodge again.

Day 12;                                  September 4th

This morning we continue down the Manu River, joining the Madre de Dios River once again, and continuing downriver to Manu Wildlife Centre Lodge, our lovely home for the next four days.  Manu Wildlife Center has a spectacular canopy tower set around a giant kapok tree, and we enjoy the afternoon up here watching out for birds and monkeys.

Days 13, 14 & 15;                September 5th, 6th & 7th

We have three full day to explore the forest and trails around the lodge looking for primates including monk saki (an uncommon and rarely-seen monkey of the terra firme forest), emperor and saddleback tamarins, and black spider monkeys.  Birds are also plentiful, and we watch for manakin leks, where the birds perform their strange mating dances.  We also visit a mammal clay lick where birds and mammals come to eat minerals to neutralise the toxins they ingest in their food.  There is an opportunity for anyone who wishes to stay at the lick after dark to see what nocturnal creatures come to the eat the clay.  Tapirs, the largest South American land mammal are frequent visitors, as well as peccaries.  We watch for them from the comfort of mosquito nets-covered mattresses from the specially constructed blind.

During our time at the lodge we also visit sites further down-river, including an ox-bow lake where we search for a family of giant otters and other wildlife, including the bizarre hoatzin.  Another excursion takes us to a parrot clay lick, truly one of the world’s great wildlife spectacles as hundreds of parrots and macaws congregate to eat the mineral-rich clay that is essential to their digestion.  We use a comfortable hide to get close to the birds, and the noise alone is incredible as the parrots mass in trees overhead.  The sight of these brightly-coloured birds coming to the lick is a sight not to be forgotten.   

Day 16;                                  September 8th

After an early breakfast we bid farewell to the lodge and start our journey by motorised canoe back to civilisation.  Our destination is Boca Colorado, a frontier gold rush town, from where we leave our boat and drive to the Inambari River.  From here we drive to the town of Puerto Maldonado in order to catch our flight to Lima, and connect to our international flights home.


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